The Mediterranean Sea is not a firm border: the flow of people, ideas, goods and money have made it a junction more than a barrier. With six million French citizens originally from the Maghreb, France's destiny is necessarily tied to this region. What is true for France is also true for other countries in Europe, like Spain with Morocco, or Italy with Tunisia and Libya. Southern Europe is tied to North Africa, for the better - cultural exchanges, services such as tourism, the care economy, industrial cooperation - but also for the worse, with European radical Islamism being rooted in the Maghreb.
Europe has not necessarily been able to comprehend the social transformations that gave rise to the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago. This missed opportunity must not be repeated on the occasion of the health crisis and its economic consequences.
For many years, European countries have witnessed their sphere of influence shrink in North Africa. Other countries, particularly emerging economies, have found their place among the new economic elites and have developed strong partnerships competing with Europe.
But the jury is still out. There is nothing definite about a stronger Turkish, Qatari, Chinese or Russian presence on the Mediterranean shores. Beyond Europe’s assets, we actually share a common history and destiny with Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
This policy paper provides an in-depth overview of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, before the Covid-19 crisis and since. Institut Montaigne argues that Europeans should grant massive support to the Maghreb, particularly to Tunisia, without overly stringent trade-offs, in order to avoid a social and political shock that would threaten its fragile democratic structure.